Let me pee in peace, please.
Why the bathroom debate needs to end, and how we can learn to be more inclusive to trans and non-binary people in the process.
The bathroom debate is a multifaceted issue. There are arguments involving science, social convention, history, sexual assault, and human rights issues. Despite the multiplicity, there are only a few topics that truly define the transgender bathroom debate. This article will cover the topics of rape committed by transgender people, the science behind gender itself, and whether or not this topic is a human rights issue. With all the complicated variables involved, states should not have the power to prevent people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity rather than their biological sex.
Why Trans People Aren’t a Threat to “Real Women”
The first argument is that transgender people will take advantage of women and children in bathrooms. Although a simple Snopes search can prove the opposite, many people claim there have been cases of transgender women raping cisgender women in bathrooms (Snopes.com). Despite citizen insistence at having transgender bathroom laws, they do not seem to acknowledge that would involve checking everyone’s genitalia at the door, a complicated proposition. Perhaps because of this, over half of Americans believe transgender people should use the bathroom of their choice (Public Religion Institute). Many recognize that a gendered bathroom door will not stop a rapist from attacking their victim if they so choose. As police and officials of states state, “’If the behavior’s there, [sexual predators are] gonna behave as they’re gonna behave no matter what the laws are’” (Steinmetz). A gendered sign on a restroom door is not a sigil of protection against predatory action. Numerous people also recognized that rape is typically not committed by a stranger in the first place. In fact, fifty-nine percent of rapes are committed by someone the survivor already knew, not necessarily by a stranger (RAINN). Preventing transgender people from going to the bathroom of their choice does not ‘help protect women and children.’ Research has even shown that denying the right to go to the bathroom to transgender people “reproduces oppression and domination of marginalized groups” (Seelman 198). It is harmful to all parties to assume bathroom laws prevent a crime that didn’t exist in the first place. Bathroom laws are clumsy, irrelevant pieces of legislation that do not hold up against science or social convention.
Separating Sex and Gender
In reality, transgender bathroom rights aren’t really about bathrooms. They are really about the idea of transgender people not conforming to norms. Many argue that sex or gender is inherent and that being transgender is made up. However, as has been shown scientifically, gender and sex are culturally constructed ideas heavily influenced by society.
For those who debate the idea of fluid gender, this paper will first discuss sex. Although society may argue differently, sex is not always static. Many like to claim that sex characteristics are set; however, sexual characteristics are just as socially constructed as gender characteristics. When a baby is born a doctor decides its sex by several factors, including genitalia size and chromosomes, even though the doctor is deciding sex based on a societally prescribed measuring stick. As the Intersex Society of North America explains, “in the same way, nature presents us with sex anatomy spectrums. Breasts, penises, clitorises, scrotums, labia, gonads — all of these vary in size and shape and morphology. So-called ‘sex’ chromosomes can vary quite a bit, too.” Even though genitalia size may not seem important, if a clitoris is large enough, or a penis small enough, a person has the potential to be assigned the ‘wrong’ sex. It is actually humans who decided how to categorize sex, not nature itself. Some people are even termed intersex for falling in between the sexual binary system. Like other natural phenomenon, there is a lot of variation. Sex is not as simple as the boxes we check on our birth certificates.
In addition to the complications involving the definition of sex, there is also fluidity of gender to discuss. Being transgender is not abnormal or uncommon in human society or in the animal world. As Beven notes, “current estimates are that at least 1–2% of people are transgender. This amounts to at least 20 million transgender people in the United States, which is equivalent to the populations of several U.S. states” (8). That one to two percent is the same number of red heads in world. Chances are, if you know a red head you also know at least one person who is transgender. In addition, science has shown repetitively that experiments can accurately predict whether people are transgender by testing things such as being left handedness, hormone levels, brain waves, and measurements of certain bones and muscles (Beven 53). Science has proven that both sex and gender are not really definable, instead it is society and culture that determines our gender presentation.
In Western society gender is typically defined through sexual characteristics. Western culture also strictly defines gender roles. As Bevan states, “In our culture, a baby is immediately assigned to one of two gender behavior categories, masculine or feminine, based on sex. Culture consists of rules for behavior within a group of people as decided by the group and is continued by teaching their children” (4). Although many Western people claim that gender is the same everywhere, the Western view of gender is only one view of many in the world. Views of gender are typically informed by religion, belief systems, and other cultural influences. The western view believes that there is a gender binary, with all genders matching birth sex, and that it is impossible to move between categories (9). This view is only one of gender and is not necessarily the ‘right’ one. Despite what many claim, there are several different cultures that recognize multiple genders, typically from three to five, that are based on more extensive factors such as childhood behavior (11). It is not fair for Westerners to make discriminatory policies towards others that have no basis in sciences and are only predicated on their own societal beliefs.
Trans Rights are Human Rights
A third argument held by those upholding discriminatory bathroom laws is that states should have the right to determine their individual policies. However, transgender rights are not a state’s rights issue, they are a human rights issue and therefore under the jurisdiction of the federal government. America has a bill of rights to prevent states from taking away privileges meant for everyone. Furthermore, the US is a founding member state of the UN. The US itself formed the Declaration of Human Rights, meant to apply to all the member of the United Nations. The United Nations claims “human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible” (OHCHR). If the US was to live up to its claim of supporting human rights, it must control them from the federal level. In fact, even on the Department of State’s website it claims, “Because the promotion of human rights is an important national interest, the United States seeks to: Hold governments accountable to their obligations under universal human rights norms and international human rights instruments… [including] the protection of minorities” (Department of State). The American government has already confirmed it stands against human rights violations. American states do not get a say in this debate. They cannot choose to discriminate against minority groups, especially involving the issues surrounding bathroom access.
States do not have the right to decide which bathroom their citizens can use, especially since they do not have the funding to enforce those laws. There are much cheaper solutions that would resolve issues on both sides of the isle. For example, all bathrooms could be made gender neutral, similar to bathrooms in homes. Or stalls could be erected around urinals so that there is more privacy involved. In both these cases a simple removal of signs would effectively make all bathrooms gender inclusive for everyone, regardless of gender identity. Both of these solutions involve protecting the privacy of both proponents and opponents of bathroom laws. If solutions like this were implemented there would be far less need for a bathroom debate in the first place. Trans people need to be afforded the same protections as everyone else, and deserve the human dignity of using the bathroom without a forced identity crisis.
Bevan, Thomas E. Being Transgender: What You Should Know, ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Case, Laura K., and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. “Alternating Gender Incongruity: A New Neuropsychiatric Syndrome Providing Insight into the Dynamic Plasticity of Brain-Sex.” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 78, no. 5, May 2012, pp. 626–31. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2012.01.041.
CNN, Emanuella Grinberg and Dani Stewart. “3 Myths in the Transgender Bathroom Debate.” CNN. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.
Debbie Elliott, et al. “In Many School Districts, Transgender Bathroom Access Is The Norm.” Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR), May 2016. EBSCOhost, http://ezproxy.baylor.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=6XN201605141312&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
“FACT CHECK.” Snopes.com, 20 Oct. 2017, https://www.snopes.com/miguel-martinez-transgender-bathroom-controversy/.
Gentile, Douglas A. “Technical Commentary: Just What Are Sex and Gender, Anyway?: A Call for a New Terminological Standard.” Psychological Science, vol. 4, no. 2, 1993, pp. 120–22.
Greenberg, Julie A. Intersexuality and the Law: Why Sex Matters. NYU Press, 2012. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt16gzpsf.
Hubbard, Ruth. “Gender and Genitals: Constructs of Sex and Gender.” Social Text, no. 46/47, 1996, pp. 157–65. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/466851.
Human Rights. https://www.state.gov/j/drl/hr/. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.
Intersex | The Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today’s World — Credo Reference. http://search.credoreference.com.ezproxy.baylor.edu/content/entry/sagewtw/intersex/0. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.
“It”s Easier to Change a Body than to Change a Mind’: The Extraordinary Life and Lonely Death of Roberta Cowell | The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/its-easier-to-change-a-body-than-to-change-a-mind-the-extraordinary-life-and-lonely-death-of-roberta-8899823.html. Accessed 22 Oct. 2017.
“Lili Elbe.” Biography.com, https://www.biography.com/people/lili-elbe-090815. Accessed 22 Oct. 2017.
MacGillivray, Margaret H., and Tom Mazur. “Intersex.” Advances in Pediatrics, vol. 52, no. Supplement C, Jan. 2005, pp. 295–319. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2005.04.004.
Majority of Americans Oppose Transgender Bathroom Restrictions. Public Religion Research Institute, 10 Mar. 2017. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.baylor.edu/docview/1882848998/abstract/7811BDB186D04BA6PQ/1.
OHCHR | What Are Human Rights. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.
Perpetrators of Sexual Violence: Statistics | RAINN. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/perpetrators-sexual-violence. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.
Schuster, Mark A., et al. “Beyond Bathrooms — Meeting the Health Needs of Transgender People.” The New England Journal of Medicine; Boston, vol. 375, no. 2, July 2016, pp. 101–03.
Seelman, Kristie L. “Transgender Individuals’ Access to College Housing and Bathrooms: Findings from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, vol. 26, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 186–206. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1080/10538720.2014.891091.
Steinmetz, Katy. “Why LGBT Advocates Say Bathroom ‘Predators’ Are Red Herring.” Time, http://time.com/4314896/transgender-bathroom-bill-male-predators-argument/. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.
What Is Intersex? | Intersex Society of North America. http://www.isna.org/faq/what_is_intersex. Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.
“When A Transgender Person Uses A Public Bathroom, Who Is At Risk?” NPR.org, http://www.npr.org/2016/05/15/477954537/when-a-transgender-person-uses-a-public-bathroom-who-is-at-risk. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.